By Carmen Trochsler, CSA Delegate for Australia, Adelaide.
In August, the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA), with delegates representing Swiss living abroad from all over the world, were meeting in Lugano, ahead of the Congress of the Swiss Abroad.
I had the honour to represent Australia in the Council, along with my fellow Australian delegates Katja Wallimann Gates and Beat Knoblauch – and for the first time in person due to the pandemic - as member of the executive board of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA).
After a three year break, it was a great joy to meet fellow delegates in person, as well as members of the Swiss Parliament, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the partner organisations and the team at the OSA head office. The energy of human connection was palpable, along with motivation to create an impact.
Images: OSA, Adrian Moser
Friday: Meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad (CSA)
Agenda items at Friday’s Council meeting were long-running issues such as e-voting, the cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the free movement agreement with the European Union and newer topics like the introduction of an Electronic Identity (E-ID). A summary with topics relevant for the Swiss in the Oceania regions is available at the end of this report.
Saturday: 98th Congress of the Swiss Abroad
On Saturday, lively discussion continued at the plenary session and the workshops, following a welcome speech by Federal President Ignazio Cassis. Central topics were (E-)Democracy, political rights, and diversity of the electorate: Democracies need strengthening and nurturing to sustain. One such strengthening is the inclusion of as many groups as possible. The more diverse and broadly based a system resp. the electorate is, the better the legitimacy of its decisions, the higher its resilience. More here.
Sunday: Exploring the host region
On Sunday we got to enjoy the beauty of our host region thanks to Swiss Tourism with a trip across Lake Lugano and a cogwheel train ride up to Monte Generoso, near the Italian border. Standing majestically on the mountain’s rugged plateau was the new “Fiore di pietra“ (stone flower). The building was created by renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta, who joined us to give a talk.
All in all, a very memorable and enriching conference with an interesting and diverse crowd from all over the world. Excellent talks and discussions, new insight and connections, newly formed interest groups to increase exchange and collaboration on topics that matter - and a spirit of optimism in this turbulent world!
My thanks go to the Director of OSA Ariane Rustichelli and the whole OSA team for the outstanding organisation, and to the City of Lugano for hosting us.
Specific matters of interest to the Swiss in the Oceania Region
The Swiss government has presented plans for the introduction of a digital identity for citizens to facilitate administrative processes. The draft project foresees that the state will be responsible for issuing the e-ID and its infrastructure.
The council discussed the proposal which would also provide benefits to Swiss living abroad. Ensuring data protection and data security as well as compliance with international standards remain central. The OSA Board has been mandated to submit a consultation response by October 2022. More on the Swiss E-ID here.
As previously reported, the e-voting many of us enjoyed, has been put on hold nation-wide in 2019 due to security concerns. Since the beginning of 2021, Swiss Post’s redeveloped e-voting system has been put through its paces by independent experts. The legal basis for new e-voting trials has come into force on 1.7.2022. Swiss Post expects to make its new e-voting system available for use by interested cantons in 2023. Hence the launch of e-voting is scheduled for 2023 in several cantons - amongst participating cantons are likely SG, TG, BS and GR.
Whilst e-voting would again simplify the voting process, the challenge of receiving the voting codes in time will remain in some countries. Postal delivery to Australia and New Zealand has luckily been quite reliable pre-pandemic, this is not the case in every country. The Department of Foreign Affairs will provide a report on all voting related issues and also include this aspect.
Following a postulate of National Councillor Andri Silberschmidt (FDP, ZH) the government has been looking into alternative channels and extension of the dispatch times of voting material. As a first step and designed as an interim measure, the Federal Chancellery has conducted a pilot program in using the diplomatic mail for the transmission of voting material. Three countries were chosen for the test run, with Australia being one of those. Swiss who live here and were registered to vote in the cantons Aargau, Ticino and Geneva were included. Half of the group did get the voting material as per usual by mail, the other half by diplomatic courier. Data was collected and a report is to be expected in spring 2023. OSA will be consulted during the process as well.
Access to Swiss Banks
Three Financial Services providers were present at the congress in Lugano, Yapeal, and the Cantonal Banks of Geneva and Zurich.
The Cantonal Bank of Geneva (BCGE) has concluded a partnership agreement with the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad in 2017. It offers Swiss abroad the opportunity to open a private account at reasonable fees.
Fees for a private account for Swiss abroad are CHF 124/annum, no minimum deposit is required (as per 1.8.22). Terms and conditions apply). Branches are in Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich and Basel.
Please note that you can’t walk in and open an account. An appointment is necessary. Also, some documents need to be provided in advance such as passport copy, financial statements etc. Interested Swiss Abroad in Oceania are urged to make their own enquiries and an make an appointment directly with the bank.
OSA has entered a partnership with Yapeal effective from 1 Dec 2021. Yapeal is a FINMA-recognised fintech company that is offering basic accounts to Swiss people living in neighbouring countries, at low fees. Whilst at this stage only residents in Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France can benefit from the service a further expansion is planned.
The Cantonal Bank of Zurich has currently no Agreement with the SwissCommunity (OSA). Recognising the need of the Swiss Abroad, they have however abolished the minimum deposit requirement to open an account as per this August.
Study in Switzerland with Australian Qualifications
Educationsuisse is a partner of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad. It advises and supports young Swiss abroad who wish to pursue their education or training in Switzerland. They were present with a stall at the congress.
Having identified a need for more information in Australia after our survey earlier this year, we have organised an online information event for anyone in Australia interested about studying and support in Switzerland. The session will be on 18th October, with more information and registration details following soon.
Information from the Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA)
Johannes Matyassy, head of the foreign ministry’s consular directorate, drew attention, to the following:
Importance of being registered at the Consulate, especially in geopolitical difficult times so help can be provided easier if needed. Registration is also possible via the platform ‘ONLINE DESK’ (register here). Personal details can be updated, civil status matters announced, confirmations can be ordered etc.
The FDFA will launch a new Smartphone App ‘Swissintouch’ in November, which amongst other features simplifies correspondence with representations.
An awareness campaign has started, which aims to remind expats of the principle of self-responsibility. One part of the awareness campaign is called “Ageing Abroad”, which aims to help Swiss pensioners abroad plan their personal responsibilities as early as possible and take care of themselves for as long as possible. More information from Swissinfo here and from the FDFA about retiring abroad here.
The legal basis for the new e-voting trials has come into force on 1.7.2022. The main issue to address remains the security requirements of the system used. Trials will start next year.
The cooperation between the FDFA and OSA develops continuously, and the legal framework has been renewed again.
New Swiss Passport Family
The new Swiss passport family is scheduled for launch on October 31, 2022. Whilst the design will be renewed, the functionality and the issuing procedure will remain unchanged. All previously issued passports will remain valid until the registered date.
As a great joy for the Swiss Abroad: Together with the 26 cantons, the ‘fifth Switzerland’, which stands for the Swiss abroad, will now also be represented on one of the visa pages!
13. September 2022